Spending time at the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for the interview stage of the Team USA Scholarship, with multiple participants and scholarship principal, Jeremy Shaw, was an exciting and educational experience. Many great connections were made, alongside the experience of listening to INDYCAR teams’ communication during practice. Shortly after the interview stage, I received word that I was selected as one of six finalists to continue to the Team USA Scholarship Shootout at Road America with Lucas Oil School of Racing presented by Cooper Tires on September 4th – 5th. Given this is my first year in road racing, this made me ecstatic as the Team USA Scholarship is a huge opportunity offered to a select number of drivers.
Traveling to Road America was a struggle for many due to delayed flights to Chicago O’Hare International Airport. Fortunately, all contestants and judges were able to arrive on time before the events began. Rooming with Prescott Campbell, both got to sleep as early as possible that night to prepare for the upcoming early morning and big two days ahead.
The time was here and I was ready to go. We departed to Road America early in the morning to get fitted in the Lucas Oil School of Racing Ray Race GR-RSC formula cars and get our day moving. After meeting all of the Team USA Scholarship Shootout judges and greeting the Lucas Oil School of Racing staff, I was looking forward to our first time on the track. During our first practice session, I was getting comfortable with the car and track, but knowing these cars well, it did not take too long for me to get comfortable in the car. We were driving on Road America’s Short Course, so the lap times and corner combinations were perfect for the situation at hand. After each session in the car, us drivers had a data debrief with each of the judges. This allowed us to see what we could improve on and see how we compared to the fastest time set in the session.
Soon after our practice session, we had a physical training session with Jim Leo from PitFit Training. From reaction training to jump rope, Jim had us partake in a good selection of workouts that many INDYCAR drivers do regularly. This was great, as it allowed me to see where I need to expand the physical fitness side of being a racecar driver and take away some great workouts to do at home. It was time for the qualifying session for “Race” 1. After swapping cars, to keep us adapting to something new, we headed on track. Qualifying went well as I set a quick lap time that I was confident with. Mid-way through the session, I came into the pits early to minimize the potential of unwanted error.
Another workout session with Jim Leo took place before our first race and it was great as it had our hearts pumping before we got into the car. This forced us drivers to calm down, focus, and remain consistent during the first race. The races were not focused on wheel-to-wheel action, rather it was intended for us to set consistent and quick lap times, as we should do in any other race. Switching cars again, I, unfortunately, had an issue with the front left tire consistently locking under braking, even after changing my driving style and brake bias. I tried my best to work around the problem, but I could not find a consistent solution. The car ended up getting swapped out the next day, as the issue was also noted by others.
Day two came quickly after having a great dinner the previous night with all of the judges. Many funny stories were told and wise information was shared around the dinner table. Arriving at the track for day two, we were quick to hop in the car for a two-lap warm-up session and then go straight into a race. With a new car and information gained by data debriefs, I was prepared and ready to go. I had a consistent race with fast lap times and minimal errors. It was a great session for me as I felt as I was unable to show my potential in the previous race. The time at the track concluded with a final debrief and meeting between the judges. The two winners were not disclosed at the track during the shootout but will be announced later on. I am thrilled to find out the results.
The time I spent with the other outstanding drivers and judges will go down as an unforgettable experience in my life. It was a very educational and fun event with great meaning behind it. The Team USA Scholarship has created many notable drivers and has kickstarted careers for many. It is an honor being a part of this program in its 30th year. #TeamCooperTire